Association for Behavior Analysis International

The Association for Behavior Analysis International® (ABAI) is a nonprofit membership organization with the mission to contribute to the well-being of society by developing, enhancing, and supporting the growth and vitality of the science of behavior analysis through research, education, and practice.


42nd Annual Convention; Downtown Chicago, IL; 2016

Event Details

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Symposium #428
CE Offered: BACB
Translational Approaches to the Analysis of Animal Behavior in Zoological Settings
Tuesday, May 31, 2016
9:00 AM–10:50 AM
Zurich C, Swissotel
Area: AAB/TPC; Domain: Translational
Chair: Christy A. Alligood (Disney's Animal Kingdom and Florida Institute of Technology)
Discussant: Timothy J. Sullivan (Chicago Zoological Society-Brookfield Zoo)
CE Instructor: Christy A. Alligood, Ph.D.

This symposium will focus on current issues in the applied analysis of animal behavior in zoological settings while covering conceptual, theoretical, and methodological considerations of behavior analysis. Thus, while experimental in format, this symposium emphasizes translational work. The first presentation is mainly theoretical/methodological (with data-based examples) and concerns the application of single-case methodology to the evaluation of environmental enrichment efficacy in research and practice. The second presentation is data-based with theoretical implications of two widespread animal care strategies and will discuss a comparison of zoo animals choices for participating in positive reinforcement training or enrichment strategies. The remaining two presentations and the discussants remarks will comment on the content of these two presentations. These presenters will provide commentary on the two presentations from different perspectives and different areas of expertise, including experimental, translational, and applied analyses of behavior. By bringing together presenters with different areas of expertise, we hope to draw an audience that might not typically attend applied animal behavior presentations and offer perspectives that audiences at AAB presentations might not typically hear.

Keyword(s): environmental enrichment, operant conditioning, preference assessment, single-subject
Applying Behavior-Analytic Methodology to the Science and Practice of Environmental Enrichment in Zoos and Aquariums
CHRISTY A. ALLIGOOD (Disney's Animal Kingdom and Florida Institute of Technology), Katherine A. Leighty (Education and Science, Disney's Animal Kingdom)
Abstract: Environmental enrichment in zoos and aquariums is often evaluated at two overlapping levels: published research and day-to-day institutional record keeping. Several authors have pointed out ongoing challenges with small sample sizes in between-groups zoological research and have cautioned against the inappropriate use of inferential statistics (Koene, 2013; Shepherdson, 2003; Shepherdson et al., 2013; Swaisgood, 2007; Swaisgood & Shepherdson, 2005). Multi-institutional studies are the typically-prescribed solution, but these are expensive and difficult to carry out. Kuhar (2006) provided a reminder that inferential statistics are only necessary when one wishes to draw general conclusions at the population level. Because welfare is at the individual level, we believe evaluations of enrichment efficacy are often an example of instances in which inferential statistics may be neither necessary nor appropriate. In recent years there have been calls for the application of behavior-analytic techniques to zoo behavior management, including environmental enrichment (e.g., Bloomsmith et al., 2007; Tarou & Bashaw, 2007). Single-subject designs (also called single-case, or small-n) provide a means of designing evaluations of enrichment efficacy based on individual behavior. We will discuss how these designs might apply to research and practice at zoos and aquariums, contrast them with standard practices in the field, and give examples of each.
Is Positive Reinforcement Training Preferred Over Environmental Enrichment? New Extensions of Preference Assessments in Zoos
LINDSAY RENEE MEHRKAM (Oregon State University), Nicole R. Dorey (University of Florida), Jay Tacey (Sea World Parks and Entertainment )
Abstract: Environmental enrichment (EE) and positive reinforcement training (PRT) are both essential components to animal welfare initiatives in zoological institutions. Whether or not PRT can be considered enriching to captive animals, however, has recently become a topic of debate (e.g., Melfi, 2013; Westlund, 2014). The aims of the present study were a) to test the feasibility of using paired-stimulus preference assessments to measure an animal’s preference for engaging in a trained behavior and b) to determine whether or not individual wolves prefer to participate in PRT for versus a previously encountered EE stimuli in four captive wolves housed at Wolf Haven (Busch Gardens Theme Park, Williamsburg, VA). The results indicated that two of the four subjects preferred PRT, whereas the remaining two subjects preferred EE. This study sheds light on captive animals’ relative preferences for PRT and EE and demonstrates that preference assessments can be used to measure preference for PRT in captive animals, allowing for animals to voluntarily choose which husbandry strategy to participate in. Although future research is needed, our results suggest that this preference depends upon the individual animal, rather than being a fixed preference among species or zoo animals in general.
Analysis of Animal Behavior in Zoos: Theoretical, Experimental, and Methodological Perspectives
PETER R. KILLEEN (Arizona State University)
Abstract: In recent years, methodological concerns have been a topic of discussion amongst researchers studying animal behavior in zoos. Typically these discussions center around (a) the use of behavioral measures of indicators of welfare and welfare components, and (b) issues surrounding the application of inferential statistics to studies involving small sample sizes. The experimental analysis of behavior perspective has been under-represented in this conversation. These issues are of great importance in addressing theoretical questions surrounding environmental enrichment and animal welfare, as well as practical questions surrounding best practices in daily animal care in zoological settings. The Alligood/Leighty and Mehrkam/Dorey presentations will address the theoretical and practical importance of these issues, and Dr. Killeen will then provide commentary. Dr. Killeen’s expertise in the science of behavior, and particularly in the use of single-case methodology to elucidate basic processes in animal behavior, will allow him to comment on the theoretical and methodological issues raised by the Alligood and Mehrkam presentations.
Analysis of Animal Behavior in Zoos: Basic, Applied, and Translational Perspectives
ALAN D. POLING (Western Michigan University)
Abstract: There has been increased discussion amongst behavior analysts in recent years regarding the facilitation of diverse applications of the science of behavior. These discussions have included applications to animal behavior for several different purposes, including improving animal behavior that is important to humans (e.g., obedience training) and animals (e.g., facilitating species-typical behavior), training animals to engage in behavior that directly benefits humans (e.g., detecting land mines and tuberculosis), examining behavioral phenomena of applied significance, and training humans to work with animals. The Alligood/Leighty and Mehrkam/Dorey/Tacey presentations both represent elements of the wider effort to broaden the scope of applied behavior analysis by applying behavior-analytic methodology to questions and challenges in the zoological setting. Dr. Poling’s expertise in translational work, particularly in the application of operant learning to socially significant animal behavior, will allow him to comment on the experimental, theoretical, and applied issues raised by the Alligood/Leighty and Mehrkam/Dorey/Tacey presentations.



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